Photo courtesy of the ACT Now Coalition
Rural communities have emerged as crucial leaders in climate action. Rural people are building effective climate solutions that simultaneously foster local economic prosperity. If our nation is to address climate change, it’s not just worthwhile to invest in rural-led, place-based efforts–it’s indispensable.

That’s why, in 2023, the Rural Climate Partnership (RCP) furthered our commitment to rural climate solutions. Strengthening ties with rural organizations and expanding our training opportunities, RCP welcomed 37 new grantees in 2023. Over the last year, RCP nearly doubled its grantmaking. 

2023 grantmaking by the numbers:

  • $5.1 million in grantmaking
  • 53 grantee organizations
  • 36% of grantmaking dollars to BIPOC-serving groups
  • $270,000 in contracts to support RCP’s grantmaking and capacity-building

Core Investment Areas

RCP primarily works in three core investment areas: Clean Energy, Regenerative Agriculture, and Electrification & Efficiency. RCP also does some work in the supportive investment areas of Just Transition, Workforce Development, and Resilience. Each RCP core investment area is described below with details on our 2023 funding and a spotlight on a current RCP grantee. For a full list of our 2023 grantees, please visit our website.

 

Photo courtesy of the Beneficial Electrification League

Core Investment Area: Clean Energy 

In 2023, RCP made nearly $2.5 million in grants to organizations that work on clean energy. In Clean Energy, RCP supports work to transform rural electric cooperatives, promote at-scale renewable energy projects, and directly deploy clean energy to rural communities.

Grantee Spotlight: In 2023, the Beneficial Electrification League (BEL) helped rural electric cooperatives submit initial letters of interest for federal funding for clean energy projects. In total, BEL supported 100 clean energy project proposals that would total, if they were all built, $13 billion in new infrastructure with 4,000 megawatts of solar energy and 2,000 megawatts of storage. Collectively, this represents enough capacity to provide energy to 4.5 million homes. In 2024, BEL will continue to support rural electric cooperatives as they prepare full applications for federal funding and start planning clean energy projects.
Along with our grantmaking on clean energy, RCP is also directly working to advance rural clean energy siting. Rampant misinformation about clean energy has led more and more rural communities to ban this potential job- and income-creator. In fact, 15% of counties nationwide have enacted clean energy bans, primarily in rural areas that have high solar or wind potential. Nearly half of these bans happened in the last year alone. 

To help reverse this concerning trend and help rural communities join the new clean energy economy, RCP launched a Rural Renewables Siting Accelerator in 2023. Through this Accelerator, RCP has created spaces for rural organizations working on clean energy siting to network and share best practices with one another. Our Senior Working Lands Advisor, Scott Laeser, coordinates this group to help practitioners enable their rural communities to benefit from utility-scale clean energy projects.

 

Photos courtesy of Climate Land Leaders

Core Investment Area: Regenerative Agriculture

In 2023, RCP made over $1.8 million in grants to organizations that work on regenerative agriculture. In Regenerative Agriculture, RCP funds rural farming groups that create models of local, sustainable food systems, train existing and emerging farmers, and implement regenerative practices with real, durable climate outcomes. 

Grantee Spotlight: Rural Regeneration Through Climate Action provides storytelling training and microgrants to rural, Indigenous, and emerging farmers in the Upper Midwest who are shifting to regenerative practices. In 2023, 10 storytellers joined the inaugural cohort to learn narrative skills and share their stories through social media, local print and radio outlets, and virtual and in-person events. Along with uplifting farmer stories, Rural Regeneration builds interest in regenerative agriculture by tracking the stories that resonate the most and researching the storytelling strategies that guide their success.
Agriculture produces at least 11% of US greenhouse gas emissions. Without sustained action, agriculture will become an ever-increasing percentage of overall US emissions. Regenerative practices are a primary way to reduce these emissions and sequester carbon while improving soil health, supporting family farms, and making our food system more nutritious and resilient. RCP is invested in uplifting farmers and ranchers and the rural-groups that support them to make the switch to these regenerative practices.

 

Photo courtesy of the Clean Energy Districts of Iowa

Core Investment Area: Electrification & Efficiency

 

In 2023, RCP made nearly $1.4 million in grants to organizations that work on electrification and efficiency. In Electrification & Efficiency, RCP helps expand rural electrification and energy efficiency by funding projects that create models for how to build rural interest in these measures and implement them. 

Direct-to-consumer incentives for rooftop solar, heat pumps, electric vehicles, weatherization, and retrofits can help rural residents and businesses save on bills while reducing emissions. However, it’s a challenge for rural residents and homeowners to learn about different measures, access available federal funding, and actually implement the measures. RCP is supporting rural-specific strategies to overcome the unique rural challenges likely to keep rural residents, especially those with low or moderate incomes, from accessing these opportunities. 

Grantee Spotlight: The Clean Energy Districts of Iowa (CEDI) is bringing federal funding for electrification and energy efficiency to rural Iowans and developing a playbook to help rural communities access direct-to-consumer incentives across the US. Coordinating a cohort of other grantees, CEDI helps identify avenues to bring money-saving opportunities to rural communities through heat pumps, rooftop solar, and energy efficiency projects. In 2023, CEDI received $1.35 million in federal funding from DOE and USDA to provide technical assistance to help local governments, schools, and low-income rural households benefit from the clean energy transition and reduce energy bills.

Supportive Investment Areas

Along with grantmaking in the core investment areas described above, RCP also makes a smaller number of grants in related areas that help build climate resilience, aid workforce development, and advance just transitions from extractive economies. In 2023, RCP made about $550,000 in supportive investments.

 

Cross-cutting Strategies

RCP supports three main cross-cutting strategies within our grantmaking and capacity-building work to advance rural climate solutions. By supporting Federal Funding Implementation, Narrative Transformation, and Power Building, we help rural partners achieve their goals for clean energy, regenerative agriculture, and electrification and efficiency.

In 2023, RCP supported federal funding implementation through nearly $3.2 million in grants to organizations pursuing federal funding. This work has already brought rural communities tens of millions of dollars in federal resources to implement things like electrification and energy efficiency measures at rural schools and regenerative agriculture practices with small-scale farmers. In addition to grantmaking, RCP also contracts with experts to provide input and advice on partner organization’s federal funding applications. 

Photo courtesy of the EcoWomanist Institute
In 2023, RCP supported rural narrative transformation through over $2 million in grants to organizations that uplift rural storytellers and help broadcast their stories to wider audiences. In addition to grantmaking, RCP also co-launched an intensive six-month-long Rural Communicators Training Cohort in 2023 to provide grantees with communication training and leadership development opportunities. Of the 20 rural communications staff who participated, 12 were focused on rural climate communications. The Cohort has helped partners tell more compelling stories to broader audiences through coaching, training sessions, study hours, and peer-led discussions. 

 

Organizational Growth

RCP was able to expand grantmaking and capacity-building work, in large part due to a strong new team that is committed to supporting rural climate solutions. In the Spring of 2023, RCP brought on its first two Program Officers, Maria Doerr and Francesca Santos, and our Senior Working Lands Advisor Scott Laeser. In the Winter of 2023, we brought on our Grants & Operations Manager Katie Wiggins, and our Communications Manager Bret Serbin. 

We’re grateful about reaching this milestone with building out our team, and our hardworking staff members are excited to take on the challenges–and opportunities–of the year ahead. 

Photo courtesy of Women in Ranching
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